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Saul and the social contract: constructions of 1 Samuel 8-11 in Cowley's 'Davideis' and Defoe's 'Jure Divino.'


To the extent that we can identify a "public sphere" in seventeenth century England, we must acknowledge that it was a public sphere constructed, maintained, and negotiated by the near-absolute rhetorical legitimacy of the English Bible.(1) During this century of revolution, the Bible served as both an agent for radical change and as the basis for preserving the status quo. Christopher Hill goes so far as to assert that the seventeenth-century English Bible was "the source of virtually all ideas, [and] it supplied the idiom in which men and women discussed them" (34). Hans Frei, commenting on this same phenomenon, describes the three basic interpretive assumptions at the center of the 17th century, s understanding of biblical history: 1) that the stories in the Bible referred to and described actual historical occurrences"; 2) that the different narratives in the Bible reflected a single, continuous narrative thread in which it was possible to make all of the different narratives constituent elements of one great story; and 3) that, since the continuous narrative of the Bible reflected "the one and only real world, it must in principal embrace the experience of any present age and reader" (2-3).

What these assumptions ultimately mean is that the English public during the seventeenth century was involved in a collective effort to write themselves into a sustained master narrative of sacred history. This great narrative began in the Garden of Eden as described in the Book of Genesis and would not end until the Battle of Armageddon as described in the Book of Revelation, somewhere within the narrative framework established by these events could be found supposedly accurate representations of all of the political turmoil that the seventeenth century produced. Writing about the way Dryden engaged biblical themes for political ends, Steven Zwicker coins the phrase "political typology" to describe the kind of narrative construction in which contemporary political events were connected to biblical narratives as integral parts of the same coherent whole. According to Zwicker, the purpose of political typology is to "shape contemporary events in a manner that allows the reader to see how the present day embodies the past and, through that association, comes itself to participate in an eternal repetition of the events that the Bible records." Dryden, like all of the great writers and thinkers of his day, was intimately involved with the construction not merely of a history, but of a historical totality. And, as Zwicker concludes, "the biblical metaphor ... and the contemporary political applications are all working to transform the Restoration present tense and the biblical past into a symbolic eternal tense" (101).

In such a rhetorical environment, any debate about social, political, cultural, or economic policy was, at least to some degree, a debate about what the Bible said or meant for the modern world. And since the modern world in seventeenth-century England revolved, to a great extent, around questions of kingship and royal prerogative, what the Bible had to say about kings was of critical importance to almost everybody. As the century marched from the Parliamentary Revolution through the Regicide, the Interregnum, the Exclusion Crisis, the Glorious Revolution, and towards the next century's succession crisis, both royalists and revolutionaries alike found themselves obliged to construct their visions of both the present and the future of England around interpretations of the biblical narratives involving kingship and royalty. Fortunately, there is no shortage of such narratives. Seventeenth-century literature, philosophy, and political discourse regularly featured contemporary political allusions cast in the guise of writings about Nimrod, Nebuchadnezzar, Sennarcherib, Jeroboam, and Jehosophat, and nearly every other monarch mentioned in the Old or New Testaments.

By far, though, the most important royal narratives are those contained in the Books of Samuel, centering on the pivotal and controversial figure of King David. "During the seventeenth century," writes Mary Ann Radzinowicz, "Englishmen supposed that they could think of their own times and write clearly about them by recalling the rise of King David as represented in 1 Samuel" (45). Radzinowicz goes on to show how, during the Revolution and the Interregnum, both Charles I and Cromwell were regularly portrayed as Davidic neotypes by a host of writers including such prominent figures as Milton, Cowley, and Hobbes.(2) Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel (1681) was only one of many royalist works that transferred the symbolic aura of King David to Charles II during the Exclusion Crisis, and Defoe's Jure Divino (1706) was one of a long series of Whig publications that compared King William's ascendence over the Catholic James II to David's royal succession at the expense of the unrighteous Saul.(3)

Though the complex and charismatic character of King David made a popular rhetorical trope in Revolution and Restoration politics, the narrative of David's predecessor, Saul, was arguably even more relevant to the politics of the day. The rise of King Saul in I Samuel 8-11 constitutes the political turning point of the Old Testament. For four hundred years prior to this, Israel had been governed by a loose confederation of tribal councils and military judges; for the four hundred years that followed, nearly all Israelites lived in either the Kingdom of United Israel or in the divided Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The short narrative in chapters 8-11 outlines the circumstances under which Israel abandoned its judges and became a monarchy. The account begins with the Israelite people demanding that the prophet Samuel appoint a King to "judge [them] like all other nations."(4) Though Samuel initially rebuffs the people with a lengthy sermon outlining the disadvantages of monarchy, the people finally wear him down until he anoints Saul, a young man from the politically insignificant tribe of Benjamin, to be the first King of Israel. At first, the people complain that Saul is too young and inexperienced to be their king, but after the young Benjaminite leads a successful military campaign against a powerful enemy, the Israelite crowd publicly and unanimously ratifies Samuel's anointing and initiates the monarchy that would govern Israel, albeit in divided Houses, for the next four hundred years.

For centuries, various factions in the English populace debated the meaning of the inception of the Israelite monarchy, and much of the debate focused on a single passage, 1 Samuel 8:10-17, in which the Prophet Samuel attempts to dissuade Israel from rejecting God as their king and submitting to a terrestrial monarch. The text itself deserves to be quoted in full:

10. And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people

that asked him for a king.

11. And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall

reign over you. He will take your sons, and appoint them for

himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall

run before his chariots.

12. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and

captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to

reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and

instruments of his chariots.

13. And he will take your daughters to be confectioneries, and to

be cooks, and to be bakers.

14. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your

oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.

15. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards,

and give to his officers, and to his servants.

16. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants,

and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to


17. He will take the tenth of your sheep., and ye shall be his


Many readers have taken this passage as evidence that Samuel -- and presumably Jehovah as well -- opposed the establishment of monarchic rule in Egypt, or at least that they opposed the kinds of excesses enumerated. The gloss of the passage that appeared in the 1560 edition of the Geneva Bible stated that, according to the text, kings who act in the way that Samuel described "usurp this ouer their brethren "contrary to the Law."(5) While hardly radical by the standards of later centuries, this gloss directly refuted one of the underlying assumptions of royal absolutism: that a king could do anything that was "contrary to the law," or that there was any substantial difference whatsoever between "the law" and "the king." During the Interregnum, when antimonarchical ideas were fashionable and politically safe, reformers were even bolder in their interpretations of this passage. In The Prerogative of a Popular Government James Harrington argues that the transition into monarchy represented a fall from grace and that Israel received a king only after God chose to "abandon this sottish and ungrateful people to the most inextricable yoke of deserved slavery" (Pocock 525). Radical republican William Sprigge takes Harrington's basic interpretation even further, insisting that

the children of Israel were ... a Free-State, and enjoyd their native liberties, till the time of Samuel, when they rebelled and desired a King like the other Nations, that they might be like the Heathen whom Cod had cast out, and rejecting of him, then rebellion and high treason against his own divine Majesty.

Sprigge, like many others throughout the century, concludes his exegesis of the text with a pat generalization: "the true nature of no other then the more gentle or civil expression of Tyranny" (8,9)

However, the case for this reading has never been so indisputable as its advocates have claimed. Several modern Biblical scholars have found strong evidence for a pro-monarchy reading of Samuel's words,(6) and, during most of the seventeenth century, the official interpretation of this passage held that Samuel was not warning against the possible abuses of a king, but delineating the proper power that a monarch rightfully holds over his subjects. As far back 1598, no less a proponent of royal absolutism than King James I quoted this very passage and insisted that

this speech of Samuel to the people, was to prepare their hearts before the hand to the due obedience of that King, which God was to give unto them; and therefore opened up unto them, what might be the intolerable qualities that might fall in some of their kings, thereby preparing them to patience, not to resist to God's ordinance. (67-68)

This basic interpretation of Samuel's warning was echoed by conservatives throughout the seventeenth century. In Leviathan, Hobbes, anxious to remove all doubt about the passage, retranslates the phrase "manner of the king" in verse ten to "right of the king" and argued that these verses confirm "the right that sovereigns have, both to the militia and to all judicature, in which is contained as absolute power as one man can possibly transfer to another" (132). Robert Filmer, then, was merely parroting a cherished piece of conventional wisdom when he wrote that "the scope of Samuel was to teach the people a dutiful obedience to their King, even in those things which themselves did esteem mischievous and inconvenient" (36).

During the period between 1640 and 1690, when these debates were at their most intense, the people of England witnessed the Civil War, the regicide, the Interregnum government, the restoration of the monarchy, the Exclusion Crisis, and the Glorious Revolution. Almost without exception, these crises centered on defining the relationship between the king and his subjects. It is therefore no accident that the same fifty years of English history that saw five major constitutional crises also saw a significant philosophical shift away from political models based on divine right and paternal power and towards various contract theories that defined the nature of this relationship and attempted to clarify the rights and duties of each party. For some, such as Thomas Hobbes, the original social contract bound all members of a state to near-absolute obedience to their liege; for others, though, most notably John Locke, the social contract required a ruler to meet certain obligations and allowed the people to replace any form of government that did not meet their needs. But Hobbes and Locke shared one key premise: that citizenship in a state implied one's support of an initial political compact made, theoretically if not historically, by their ancestors upon leaving the state of nature. Because the narrative in 1 Samuel 8-11 seems to describe just such a social contract, it became one of the most frequently cited and often interpreted texts of the entire century.

For the remainder of this essay, I will examine the way both social contract theory and the story of King Saul were incorporated into the literature of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Specifically, I will analyze two early neoclassical epic poems, both of which make direct political use of the biblical narrative in question. Abraham Cowley's Davideis (1654) and Daniel Defoe's Jure Divino (1706). Though different in both style and substance, the poems are remarkably similar in many ways. Both poems originally set out to be twelve-book epics modeled on classical forms, though Cowley stopped abortively after the first four books. Both poems were written in response to great political upheavals by poets with a history of political advocacy. And both poems attempt to construct a sacred history of the world that encompasses everything from the Fall of Adam right up through to the Civil War (in Cowley's case) and the Glorious Revolution (in Defoe's). In a recent article, Paula Backscheider has clearly demonstrated the literary debt that Jure Divino owes to Davideis; however, these structural similarities lead her to what I consider to be an incorrect conclusion: that "Cowley interprets the Bible as Defoe does, and [that] their opinions of monarchy are highly similar" (108). I shall argue precisely the reverse: that Cowley and Defoe used the same biblical narrative in support of different political agendas. Both poets, it is true, rejected absolutist notions of divine right in favor of some version of contract theory; however, their applications of these theories led them to completely different political positions. Cowley's understanding of the social contract closely parallels the absolutism of his fellow royalist Thomas Hobbes, while Defoe's presentation more closely mirrors the revolutionary philosophy of John Locke, whose political theory can be found on almost every page of Jure Divino.


Abraham Cowley's Incomplete epic poem Davideis is now regarded -- on the few occasions when it is regarded at all -- as a noble failure, or as a further proof of Milton's singular achievement as a seventeenth-century biblical epic maker. To many of his contemporaries, however, Cowley was at least Milton's equal, and Davideis was frequently cited as the great example of the English Biblical Epic.(7) Undoubtedly much of this praise had a political basis: when the Restoration dust finally cleared in 1660, Cowley found himself standing, albeit somewhat tenuously, on the right side of the political fence. But Cowley's poetical talent has also suffered from a tendency to judge him as something separate from the rhetorical context that produced him. Douglas Bush asserts inaccurately that Cowley "had neither the intellectual nor the poetic power for such a synthesis of science and imagination as the divided age was in need of" (376). It was not Cowley's age that rejected him; at the time of his death, he was the most respected poet of his age, reportedly ranked by Milton himself as belonging in the company of Spenser and Shakespeare as one of the three greatest poets of England's history (Loiseau 10). The British intellectual historian Basil Willey offers a much more satisfying assessment of Cowley's career when he refers to him as "a man of his own age rather than of all time, [who] maybe taken to reflect contemporary sentiments more closely than Milton" (227)

Many of the contemporary scholars who have taken up Davideis have followed Cowley's biographer Arthur Nethercot and declared the epic poem to represent a major shift in Cowley's political leanings. The young Cowley, so the story goes, was a royalist, a supporter of Charles I, and a willing exile after the Civil War. But the mature poet briefly fell under Cromwell's spell and wrote Davideis as a radically anti-monarchical poem aimed at "putting himself in countenance with the Cromwellian government" (153) David Trotter, who advocates a somewhat less extreme version of Nethercot's thesis, sees the poem as one in which "`king, and `tyrant' are virtually synonymous" (97). In her comparison between Davideis and Jure Divino, Backscheider echoes these sentiments almost word for word, stating that, "in some ways, Cowley seems even more radical than Defoe, for he seems to be against any form of monarchy and to find `king' and `tyrant' universal synonyms" (109). Given Cowley's strong royalist tendencies both before and after the publication of Davideis, however, these whiggish interpretations almost certainly overstate whatever case there may be for an anti-monarchical reading of either the poet or the poem. Moreover, such readings rely on what I consider to be two basic interpretive errors. First, they uncritically attribute to the author words placed in the mouth of the character Samuel, whose anti-monarchical opinions are directly contradicted by the poem's narrator. Second, and even more importantly, they ignore a great part of the narrative context Cowley erects around the story of Saul -- a narrative context that relies much less on latent Republican sentiment, and much more on the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, than Backscheider, Trotter, and Nethercot have allowed.

Cowley's relationship to Hobbes is critically important to both the narrative structure and to the political content of Davideis. According to the chronology of Davideis proposed by Frank Kermode, Cowley wrote all of Davideis in the early 1650's, while both he and Hobbes were royalist exiles in France.(8) That Cowley was strongly influenced by Hobbes cannot be doubted. After Hobbes published Leviathan in 1651, Cowley proclaimed himself an earnest disciple and wrote a poem of praise "To Mr. Hobs" which was eventually published in the collection of Pindaric Odes that appeared in the same 1656 edition that contained Davideis. In "To Mr. Hobbes," Cowley claims that the "vast Bodies of Philosophy" that he had encountered before Hobbes all are bodies dead / Or Bodies by Art fashioned," while Hobbes alone can be credited with "the Living Soul" that makes philosophy vibrant and compelling (19-20).(9)

Radzinowicz's recent analysis of the Davidic archetype in the seventeenth-century literature opposes the royalist treatment of the David myth by Hobbes and Cowley with its genuinely republican construction by Milton in political tracts such as The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649), Eikonoklastes (1649), and The First Defense of the English People (1651). Her analysis of the way that these three writers used the biblical narrative concludes, much as I have been arguing, that writers of the seventeenth century expected Scripture to afford a helpful political model. But the thesis that the king rules by God's assent is deeply ambiguous. Hobbes and Cowley say that it means absolute kingship; Milton, provisional temporal rule" (49). Radzinowicz's analysis of the way the David story was used by both Hobbes and Cowley would hold equally true for their use of the narrative of King Saul. Hobbes, in fact, uses the moment of Saul's election as one of the principal stated examples of the absolute social contract that is implied throughout the whole of Leviathan:

When the people [of Israel] heard what power their king was to have, yet they consented thereto, and say thus "we will be as other nations, and our king shall judge our causes, and go before us to conduct wars" (verse 19). Here is confirmed the right that sovereigns have, both to the militia and to all judicature, in which is contained as absolute power as one man can possibly transfer to another. (132-33)

Hobbes's influence on Davideis can be seen from the very beginning of Book Four, which, unlike the first three books, is a relatively uninterrupted historical narrative framed by a conversation between the fugitive David and a confidant named Moab in which the latter asks "why your great State [Saul's] nameless Fam'ily chose / and by what Steps to Israel's Throne they rose" (94:47-48). The first 150 lines of David's narration painfully recount the chaos the nation of Israel suffered during the reign of the judges. During this time, David explains, the people were governed not by a strong monarch but by a loose collection of tribal judges who were largely corrupt and incompetent, and who provided no social stability because they "were ill obey'd whilst Living, and at Death / Their rules and Pattern vanish'd with their breath" (94:72-73). Cowley emphasizes the fact that, under these judges, Israel had neither effective justice nor competent protection from either foreign or domestic threats. Worst of all, the government of the judges could not prevent the outbreak of a disastrous civil war:

This did ('tis true) a Civil War create

(The frequent curse of our loose-govern'd State)

All Gibeah's, and all Jabes Blood it cost;

near a whole Tribe, and future Kings we lost.

Firm in the Earthquake of the Land,

How could Religion, its main Pillar, stand?

Proud, and fond Man, his Father's Worship hates,

Himself, God's Creature, his own God creates. (94:96-103)

The actual Biblical event Cowley describes in these verses occurs in judges 19-21, the story of a Levite woman who is raped in the Benjaminite city of Gibeah, precipitating a crisis that led to a civil war. But there can be little doubt Cowley is also thinking of a more recent civil conflict. Cowley connects the English Civil War to the uprising in Gibeah through a singular, and decidedly royalist, premise. the absence of a stable monarchy leads inevitably to the dissolution of society. In an author's footnote, Cowley leaves the reader no doubt that this is indeed his interpretation of the scriptures. He flatly states that "all the Wickedness and Disorders that we read of during the time of the Judges, are attributed in Scripture to the want of a King" (112, note 9). This premise confirms Cowley's opinion in his openly polemical poem, The Civil War, in which he praises the Stuarts for their ability to keep the peace and inveighs against the revolutionaries for threatening this stability:

Then happy James with as deepe quiet raign'd,

As in his heavenly throne by Death he gain'd

And lest this blessing with his life might cease,

He left us Charles, that pledge of future Peace.

Charles under whom with much adoe no lesse

Then Sixteen Yeers we endur'd our Happinesse:

Till in a Moment from the North we find

A Tempest conjur'd up without a Wind.

So soone the North her Kindnesse did repent,

First the peace maker, and next War she sent.(10)

After the people demand that Samuel chose a king, he responds with his blistering attack on anyone who would assume such a title. Cowley's Samuel considerably intensifies the prophet's criticism in 1 Samuel 8:10-17:

I fear, my friends, with heavenly Manna fed,

(Our old Forefather's Crime) we lust for Bread.

Long since by God from Bondage drawn, I fear,

We build anew th' Egyptian Brick-kiln here.

Cheat not your selves with Words: for though a king

Be the mild Name, a Tyrant is the thing (95:234-38)

Nethercot trots these lines out as evidence that "the wise Samuel, in whose person Cowley would seem to be flattering Cromwell, apparently voiced Cowley's own opinion against such a course" (154). Indeed, if read uncritically as Cowley's own political opinion, this final line would certainly support the conclusions reached by Nethercot, Backscheider, and Trotter. However I believe that the narrative up to this point offers substantial evidence against confusing Samuel and Cowley. If Cowley had intended this one strong anti-monarchical speech to represent his own beliefs, he would hardly have spent the first 150 lines of the book discussing the chaos and anarchy of the judges and then equate it all, in an authorial footnote, to the want of a king. A more defensible reading, I believe, is that the Samuel of this passage speaks neither the Lord's will nor the poet's ideology, but his own opinion. Such a reading allows us to reconcile this speech with the narrative context of Davideis while doing nothing more radical than observing one of the most basic tenets of literary analysis: the words of the character do not necessarily represent the opinions of the author.

To question Samuel's divine commission in this particular speech would be completely consistent with the way contemporary textual critics now interpret the passage.(11) Furthermore, such an interpretation would be consistent with the exchange between David and Moab immediately following Samuel's speech, and should leave little doubt that he did not intend for us to conflate Samuel's politics with his own. The exchange begins when Moab expresses unbelief at Samuel's opinion of kings:

Methinks (thus Moab interrupts him here)

The good old Seer 'gainst Kings was too severe.

'Tis jest to tell a People that the're free.

Who, or how many shall their Master's be,

Is the sole Doubt; Laws guide, but cannot reign;

And though they bind not Kings, yet they restrain.


David who by this point in the poem has already been anointed as Saul's successor, is hardly in a position to concur in Samuel's invective. Indeed, a projected twelve-book epic with David as the hero makes little sense if one has already decided that all kings are evil and tyrannical. But, much like Cowley himself, David is in a delicate position here: he cannot dispute Samuel's prophetic calling without calling into question Israel's status as a chosen nation, but at the same time he cannot accept Samuel's speech as divine without repudiating his own right to rule. He therefore agrees with Moab's basic argument, but offers a justification for how Samuel might take such a hard stance without losing the right to call himself a prophet:

.... 'Tis true sir," he replies;

Yet men whom Age and Action renders wise,

So much great Changes fear, that they believe

All Evils will, which may from them arrive. (96:271-73)

These lines clearly establish that the narrator, and very possibly the poet himself, believed Samuel's words to be his own and not those of the Lord. These narrative intrusions, combined with the narrative factors already discussed, make it very difficult to maintain any kind of direct political equation between the normally royalist Cowley and the fiercely anti-monarchical Samuel.

As David's narrative continues, Samuel finally reconciles himself to the coming monarchy, and God directs him to the Benjaminite village of Gibeah. Once there, Samuel meets Saul, the son of Kis, and is instructed to anoint him king. In the lines that follow, the narrator spares nothing in his lavish praise of Saul's wisdom, courage, beauty, strength, and righteousness. In fact, David contends that even before being anointed King, Saul "was much a Prince, and when and whereso'er / His birth had been, then had he reign'd and there" (96:342-43). The narrator goes even further along these lines by referring to Saul as one "whom nature, e'er the lots, to'a throne did call" (96:341). By choosing Saul to be king, then, Samuel does not confer an undeserved honor on someone who would have otherwise languished in anonymity; he merely confirms the royalty that is already inherent in Saul's nature. Though not specifically Hobbesian, this notion of inherent right to rule is completely consistent with the pro-monarchic philosophy that Michael McKeon has labeled "aristocratic ideology" -- nobility that is "an essential inward property of its possessor" (131). In stories where someone possesses internal virtue but not external honor, it is often the function of the narrative to elevate the person's outward status to match their inward worth. This is precisely what Cowley seems to have in mind when the narrator states that "Saul's bright Crown gave Lustre to his Worth" (98:535).

Immediately after Samuel anoints Saul king, the people of Israel face an external threat of the very kind that allows Saul to prove his worth in battle. Just when people are starting to murmur about Saul's extreme youth and his humble origins, Ammonite troops lay siege to the border city of Jabesh and demand that all of the inhabitants, in return for their lives, put out their right eyes as a tribute. The people send word to Saul, who assembles a force and routs the enemy, preserving the both the pride and the vision of the Israelite people (97:400-98:98: 499-519). After this military victory, Saul is anointed a second time amid the cheers of his subjects, some of whom demand that all earlier dissenters be put to death. Saul, however, refuses to allow the celebration to be stained with civil Slaughter" (99: 626) when he has been chosen as the king precisely because the people were weary of civil strife. He has brought stability to the land and provided the kind of leadership that was absent in the days of the judges; consequently, he can receive a second anointing from the people secure in the knowledge that he has fulfilled his part of the bargain. Thus, the social contract between king and country is ratified and consummated: "Again the Crown th' assembled People give, / With greater joy than Saul could it receive" (99:624-629). Samuel then steps forward to praise Saul and remind the people of their obligation to obey the king that they have asked for and remember the God who made the kingdom possible (99:662-680).

From this point on, Saul rules as the legitimate king of Israel, made so both by God's choice and by a contract with the people. In the chapters that follow, Saul becomes increasingly petty and tyrannical. However, at no point in the entire poem does the narrative question his legitimacy or his light to rule. Even had Cowley completed the poem, it is likely that he would have followed the Bible in showing that David recognized Saul as "the Lord's annointed" until the first king's death in 2 Samuel 1. To read Book Four of Davideis as either anti-monaarchical or republican, I believe, misses the point of the entire poem. The twelve books that Cowley projected were designed to tell the story of King David, the man who reigned with the consent of the Lord and who became the progenitor of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Had Cowley actually designed Book Four to undermine the Israelite monarchy, he would not only have been calling into question the legitimacy of his own epic hero, he would also have been undercutting the New Testament's claim that Jesus was directly descended from the legitimate rulers of Israel.

A much better way to read the poem is as an analogy of the Hobbesian social contract, or of the precise moment in mythical history when, according to Hobbes, human beings left the state of nature, joined together in a society, and agreed to transfer their natural rights to a sovereign power. The very narrative structure of Davideis reproduces explicitly the contract narrative that, for Hobbes, always remained implicit: 1) the people, without a strong central government, live in a state of anarchy and chaos; 2) unwilling to suffer further under the judges, the people come together and demand to be made subjects of a strong monarch; 3) the Lord selects an innately competent person to be the new king; 4) immediately after he takes office, the new king routs a foreign power that had threatened to destabilize and humiliate Israel; 5) the people united in solidarity behind the king swear both their loyalty and their obedience; 6) eventually, the king becomes a tyrant, but the people, having entered into a contract, are duty bound to suffer until another, and more powerful monarch is chosen to replace their king.


With Jure Divino, Daniel Defoe set out to prove, once and for all, that divine right theory was both theologically untenable and politically unworkable. Like Davideis, Jure Divino was as immensely popular in its own day as it is virtually unnoticed in ours. Defoe apparently saw himself as following in Cowley's foot-steps -- enough so that Davideis was the only literary influence that Defoe actually acknowledged in his preface (xxvi).(12) But politically and culturally Defoe and Cowley could not have been further apart. Cowley was a devout Anglican, a royalist, and the most respected poet of his age, while Defoe was a religious dissenter, an ardent Whig, and a hack writer who had already been pilloried for his controversial prose. And while Davideis and Jure Divino share many of the same structural and topical concerns, their respective political philosophies are quite different. If Thomas Hobbes stands as the philosophical architect of the social contract in Davideis, then Defoe's contemporary John Locke occupies precisely the same space for Jure Divino.

Like Hobbes, Locke chose the narrative in First Samuel 8-11 to illustrate his notion of social contract. However, the two philosophers differed greatly in their understanding of this contract. For Locke, the contract between the subject and the sovereign depended upon the latter protecting the vital interests of the former, and both sovereign and citizen were bound by contractual obligations. If sovereigns fail to perform their part of the contract, then subjects are justified in dissolving that government and any other as they shall find it most for their safety and good." For Locke, Israel's request for a king represented the establishment of just such a contract:

And when, being weary of the ill conduct of Samuel's Sons, the Children of Israel desired a King, like all the nations to judge them, and to go out before them, and to fight their battles ... God granting their desires, says to Samuel, I will send thee a Man and thou shalt anoint him to be Captain over my People Israel, that he may save my People out of the hands of the Philistines ... as if the only business of a King had been to lead out their Armies, and fight in their Defense.... And when God resolved to transfer the Government to David, it is with these words. But now thy Kingdom shall not continue: The Lord has sought him a Man after his own heart". . . . As if the whole Kingly Authority were nothing else but to be their general. (341) This passage contains the two basic generalizations about monarchy that Locke draws from the biblical narrative: 1) that a king exists to serve the people, and not to be served by them; and 2) that the kingly authority can pass from one person to another (from Samuel to Saul to David) without any consideration of birthright, family connection, or innate "royalty." In short, the office of king exists primarily to serve the needs of the people.

Both Locke and Defoe first published their philosophical opinions as part of the massive pamphlet war that surrounded the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the subsequent allegiance crisis. Defoe's first known publications were tracts that defended the revolution, praised William and Mary, and ridiculed the notion that any English citizen could owe allegiance to the absent James II or any of his Catholic children.(13) Locke, too, published his Two Treatises of Government in 1690, in order "to establish the Throne of our Great Restorer, Our present King William [and] to make good his Title." (137). Though the Two Treatises were not published until 1698 many scholars now believe that they were written much earlier and that they played a causative, rather than merely an apologetic, role in the Glorious Revolution.(14)

Jure Divino has often been seen as a vessel for popularizing Locke's view of revolution and natural law and of defending the philosophical basis for the Glorious Revolution. But by 1706, the Glorious Revolution was hardly in need of yet another justification. William and Mary had both died by this time, and the throne had safely passed on to James II's Protestant daughter Anne. For Defoe, the most pressing political objective in 1706 to deny the Catholic Stuarts any further claims for succession and ensure that, upon Queen Anne's death, the throne passed to the safely Protestant House of Hanover. Since the electress of Hanover was technically only fourteenth in line for the throne, however, a Hanoverian succession could only occur in an England that had abandoned (or at least temporarily set aside) traditional notions of birthright, primogeniture, succession, and the divine right of Kings. Thanks in large part to Locke, the philosophical framework necessary to argue against such traditional notions were already in place. But Locke's Second Treatise of Government, in which he laid out these propositions, was remarkably underread at the time, and he stood in need of a popularizer. Daniel Defoe, the renowned author of The True Born Englishman set himself the task of taking the difficult contract theories of Locke and others and turning them into popular poetry.

The basic argument of Jure Divino, then, is the same as the basic argument of the Second Treatise of Government: political power flows from the people to the king instead of the other way around. In the poem's preface, Defoe declares himself a dutiful subject of any king approved by Parliament, but protests that he shall "own no King who shall ever wear [the crown] without Consent of parliament .... any Heredity Succession, Pretended Divine Right. Supreme Power, or other Matter, Cause, or Thing to the contrary in any wise not withstanding" (Preface, iv-v). Defoe supports this point, alternately, between direct arguments and appeals to historical precedent. In Book Two, the most biblical segment of the poem, Defoe bases most of his arguments on biblical narrative and seems to take special pleasure in the fact that, by using the Bible to argue his case, he will be using the absolutist's own proof texts against them:

Let us to Sacred Hist'ry now Appeal

Heaven may perhaps in these the Doubt reveal;

What tho' it seems embarass'd and perplext,

You'll find the Doctrine if you find the Text;

That very Article our Champions boast,

Should most confirm 'em, will confound 'em most. (23)

About half of Book Two consists of a historical survey of kingship in the Bible, beginning with Adam and continuing on through both Nebuchadnezzar and Nimrod, the two kings most often cited by those opposed to monarchy on principle. Defoe devotes the second part of the chapter exclusively to the narrative of Saul, beginning with Israel's request for a king in 1 Samuel 8:10-17 and ending with Saul's second coronation by the people. Though this is the same biblical story covered by Cowley in Davideis, Defoe's perception of the social contract implied by the narrative differs radically from that of his respected predecessor.

For Defoe, the selection of Saul as the King of Israel illustrates the extreme measures to which the Lord will go to honor the wishes of the people -- even when they are acting against their own best interests. Perhaps the most salient fact to come out of Defoe's narration of 1 Samuel 8 is that, in this version of the story, God was the legitimate king of Israel:

They were a Monarchy, himself their King,

Free from the Mischiefs, yet enjoy'd the thing;

Govern'd by him their Freedom they pursu'd,

He fought their battles, and their Foes subdu'd,

But glutted with their Freedom they pursu'd

They Bought their Ruin to exalt their State;

Sought their destruction with unwearied pains,

And beg'd for Fetters, Slavery, and Chains. (24)

This represents a crucial departure from Cowley, who sees 1 Samuel as the beginning of the Israelite monarchy. In Defoe's story, the people do not ask God to establish a king; instead, they ask him to choose another king so that they can be like all other nations.

In the interest of full disclosure, the Lord sends Samuel to explain to them exactly what having a king would mean. Defoe then briefly paraphrases the passage in 1 Samuel 8:10-17 and has Samuel ask the people again whether they would be ruled by such a man. In spite of this fair warning, the people declare "YES: let such a one be King" (25). After they say this, the Lord agrees to find an earthly monarch to fulfill their request. For Defoe, this moment in sacred history constitutes something more than simply adjust God punishing the people by giving them what they want (though it does represent this as well). The people come to the prophet and complain that their present form of government does not meet their needs. Samuel warns them exactly what will happen if they reject God as their king, but they don't care. They speak with a single voice, and God honors their request. The Lord, who had been Israel's king for four hundred years, chose to relinquish that title, not because he thought the people were right, but because he knew it was the Course of things, / And Nature's Law that Men should Choose their Kings" (28).

Because people have the right to choose their kings, Defoe insists, Saul does not have the right to rule Israel just because he was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel. Like Cowley, Defoe emphasizes the fact that many in Israel initially rejected Saul as the king both because he was young and because he was a Benjamite. "Does heaven design to rule us by a boy?" ask Defoe's Israelites derisively, "Give us a better king or give us none" (27). However, while Cowley uses this as evidence of Israel's continual rejection of God's authority over them, Defoe suggests in a footnote that "it seem'd as if God had own'd there was some Appearance of Reason in the People's dislike of their new King" (28). In Defoe's narrative, God's function is to nominate a king and leave election to the voice of the people. After the people complain about Saul then, Defoe's Samuel actually withdraws the nomination temporary until he can persuade the people to accept the Lord's choice:

Away they go, reject his Government,

Not Heaven's High Choice could force their due Consent;

No Lines of Government in his too Youthful Face:

Samuel submits, adjourns the strong Debate,

Suspends the King, he offer'd to Create;

Owns their Dislike's a High Material Thing,

And without their Consent he never could be King. (27-28)

For the second time in the poem, then, God allows the people the freedom to accept or reject a king as they see fit.

In another footnote, Defoe suggests, with shaky biblical support, that Saul was no more than a private citizen until after his victory at Jabesh.(15) After leading Israel's troops in a successful battle, however, Saul wins the respect of the people and, by extension, the right to wear the crown. In Jure Divino, the attack on the Ammonites was engineered by God for the express purpose of allowing Saul to prove his military mettle to the cynical Israelites (29). The ploy is successful; as a result of the battle, Saul's "Personal merit now bespeaks the Crown" and "He wins his Enemy's and Wears his Own" (30). So even though Saul came to power against the wishes of the prophet, and would eventually be deposed by an angry God, Defoe's narration of his story ends with a ringing endorsement of his rightful place as King of United Israel, made so, not by God's providence, but by the voice of the people:

The willing Tribes their purchased Suffrage bring,

And Universal Voice proclaims him King;

As if Heaven's call had been before in vain,

Saul from this proper Minute Dates his Reign.

The text is plain, and proper to the Thing,

Not God, but all the people made him King. (31)

The total narrative structure of Defoe's 1 Samuel 8-11 moves something like this: 1) the people decide that it is in their best interest to replace their current king (God) with an earthly monarch; 2) After warning the nation about the dangers of a King, the prophet Samuel, under the direction of the Lord, nominates a political novice from a minor tribe to be the new king; 3) the people refuse to support the newly chosen king; 4) Samuel temporarily suspends Saul's nomination; 5) Saul wins a key military victory that proves his worth to the skeptical people; 5) the people finally accept Saul as their king and anoint him in a ceremony that officially inaugurates four hundred years of monarchy in Israel. Whereas Cowley had used 1 Samuel to represent an allegory of an inceptive social contract among human beings in a state of nature, Defoe invokes it to provide an example of a renegotiated social contract in which a people reject one king and establish another that they feel will better meet their needs. The people's choice in wrongheadedly rejecting God only further confirms its legitimacy by arguing implicitly that God has so much respect for the social contract that he will even allow his own chosen people to reject his political rule.


Backscheider asserts that both Cowley and Defoe "use the choice of Saul for king to emphasize their opinion that kingship is conferred by men and not invested with any special power from God" (108). This argument is accurate as far as it goes, but all it really says is that both poet were contract theorists; it does not take into account the different varieties of social contract theory that came out of the seventeenth century. For Cowley, as for Hobbes, the social contract was born out of the absolute depravity and chaos of the natural state. The Hobbesian contract was absolutely binding and completely non-negotiable. The kind of government this contract advocated was just as absolute and potentially tyrannical as any government supported by divine right theory. For Defoe and Locke, on the other hand, the social contract was something that bound both ruler and subject, and something that could be legitimately renegotiated when rulers became tyrants and failed to meet the people's governmental needs.

The fact that Cowley and Defoe came to different interpretations of either the Bible or the social contract is not, by itself, either interesting or remarkable.. they came from different religious and political backgrounds, lived at different times, and responded to different events. What is instructive, however, is the almost identical way in which they incorporated the biblical narrative into their own historical epics. These authors -- together with Milton, Dryden, Bunyan, Filmer, Locke, Hobbes, and nearly every other major thinker of the time -- were on the forefront of what I consider to be the primary interpretive effort of seventeenth-century English political society: the creation of a coherent historical metanarrative -- one that began with the Fall of Adam and continued, in a more-or-less linear fashion, right up to the Glorious Revolution and beyond. The secret of this sacred historiography was not just to quote from the Bible -- which had been subject to competing interpretations for centuries -- but to merge text and context into a single, unified, and rhetorically compelling historical narrative capable of accounting for every aspect of contemporary culture.

Works Cited

Backscheider, Paula. "The Verse Essay, John Locke, and Defoe's Jure Divino." English Literary History 55:1 (1988): 99-124.

Bush, Douglas. English Literature in the Earlier Seventeenth Century: 1600-1600, 2nd edition. Oxford: Clarendon, 1962.

Cowley, Abraham. The Complete Works in Verse and Prose of Abraham Cowley. Ed. Alexander Grosart, Volume 2. New York: AMS, 1967.

_____. The Civil War. Ed. Alan Pritchard. Toronto UP, 1973.

Defoe, Daniel. Jure Divino. London, 1706.

Eslinger, Lyle. Kingship of God in Crisis: A Close Reading of 1 Samuel 1-12. Sheffield, England. Almond, 1985.

Filmer, Robert. Patriarcha and Other Writings, Ed. Johann P. Sommerville. Cambridge UP, 1977.

Frei, Hans. The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Hermeneutics. New Haven: Yale UP, 1974.

Harrington, James. The Political Works of James Harrington. Ed. J. G. A. Pocock. Cambridge UP, 1977,

Hill, Christopher. The English Bible and the Seventeenth Century Revolution. New York: Penguin, 1994.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Ed. Edwin Curley. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994.

Loiseau, Jean. Abraham Cowley's Reputation in England. Paris: Didier, 1931.

Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. Ed. Peter Laslett. Cambridge UP, 1960.

McKeon, Michael. Origins of the English Novel: 1600-1740. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1987.

Nethercot, Arthur. Abraham Cowley: The Muses Hannibal. 1931. rpt. New York: Russell, 1967.

Radzinowicz, Mary Ann. "Forced Allusions: Avatars of King David in the Seventeenth Century." Ed. Diana Trevino Beret and Michael Lieb. Literary Milton: Text, Pretext, Context. Pittsburgh: Duquense UP, 1994.

Sommerville, Johann P., ed. King James VI and I: Political Writings. Cambridge UP, 1994.

Sprigge, William. A Modest Plea for an Equal Common-wealth Against Monarchy. London, 1659.

Trotter, David. The Poetry of Abraham Cowley. London: MacMillan, 1979.

Willey, Basil. The Seventeenth Century Background. New York: Doubleday, 1953.

Zwicker, Steven N. Dryden's Political Poetry: The Typology of King and Nation. Providence RI: Brown UP, 1972.2

Notes on Contributors

Michael Austin is a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His other publications include two articles on the fiction of Saul Bellow and an upcoming article on the theology of Tony Kushner's Angels in America.

Temma F. Berg is Associate Professor of English at Gettysburg College, where she also teaches in the Women's Studies Program. Editor of Engendering the Word: Feminist Essays in Psychosexual Poetics, she is presently at work on a biography of Charlotte Lennox. She is also trying to unearth the Mary Shelley-Charlotte Lennox connection.

Charles LaChance teaches English at the University of Nebraska, where he has completed his dissertation, Born for Opposition: Byron and British Nihilism. His publications include an essay on Samuel Johnson, a mock-epic poem, a review of American Indian autobiography, and an article on sex in print advertising. A more detailed listing of his work may be found at his Web:

Daniel Shanahan is Associate Professor of English and Coordinator of the English Section at the Ecole Hautes Etudes Commerciales in Paris. He received his doctorate from Stanford University and has twice been a Fulbright Senior Lecturer in American Literature. He has authored Toward a Genealogy of individualism (U of Massachusetts P, 1992) and has published articles in such journals as Partisan Review, ADFL Bulletin, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The International Herald Tribune, and The Los Angels Times.

Editors' Note

The editors of Papers on Language and Literature extend their thanks to those persons who have given freely of their time and expertise in the reading of manuscripts submitted to the journal during 1995-96:

James Eli Adams, Indiana University Christopher K. Brooks, Wichita State University Jai Dev, Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla Raymond J. Frontain, University of Central Arkansas Herbert Grabes, Institut fuer Anglistik und Amerikanistik (Giessen) Henk Gras, Utrecht University, The Netherlands Terence Hoagwood, Texas A&M University Lawrence Hogue, University of Houston Leslie S. Katz, Amherst College Douglas Keesey, California Poly State University, San Luis Obispo Margot Anne Kelley, Ursinus College Anne K. Krook, University of Michigan Frank J. Lepkowski, Oakland University, Michigan Michael Moon, Duke University Mark W. Osteen, Loyola College, Maryland Susan J. Owen, University of Sheffield John G. Parks, Miami University (Ohio) William E. Pemberton, University of Wisconsin, La Crosse Roger J. Porter, Reed College Philip J. Pulsiano, Villanova University Karen L. Raber, University of Mississippi N. H. Reeve, University of Wales, Swansea Cedric D. Reverand II, University of Wyoming Barbara Anita Smith, College of Mt. St. Vincent Joseph J. Thorndike, University of Virginia, Charlottesville and from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville: Fred Walker Robbins Jeffrey D. Skoblow (1) For a relevant application of Jurgen Habermas's theory of the public sphere to religious life in the seventeenth century, see "Religion, Science, and Printing in the Public Spheres of England" by David Zaret (Habermas and the Public Sphere ed. Craig Calhoun [Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT P], 212-235). In this essay, Zaret offers several assertions designed to correct what he sees as inadequacies in Habermas's theory of the development of the public sphere as it relates to English society in the eighteenth century. Two of these criticisms are especially relevant to my argument: 1) "that the development [of the public sphere] appears to have been larger and stronger in the last half of the seventeenth century than in the next century"; and 2) "that the connection of the development of the public sphere to religious issues, which is ignored by Habermas, "becomes obvious when the events and consequences of the English revolution are taken into consideration"(220).

(2) Radzinowicz's article contrasts the construction of David as a royal figure in Cowley's Davideis, Hobbes's Leviathan, and Milton's political tracts. Further examination of the Davidic archetype in seventeenth-century politics can be found in Zwicker's Dryden's Political Poetry (39-55) and in Marie L. Ahearn's "David, the Military Exemplum" in The David Myth in Western Literature, eds. Raymond-Jean Frontain and Jan Wojcik (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue UP, 1980), 106-118.

(3) For an early discussion of the use of the Absalom-David story in the seventeenth century, see R. F.Jones "The Originality of Absalom and Achitophel in Modern Language Notes 46 (1931): 211-218. For a brief description of the use of First Samuel during the Glorious Revolution, see Paula Backscheider's Daniel Defoe: His Life (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1989), 49-50.

(4) Samuel 8:7. Unless otherwise noted, all biblical quotations are from the King James Authorized Version of the Bible (KJV).

(5) Geneva Bible, 1560 edition, note to 1 Sam. 8:11.

(6) Drawing his support from Hebrew literary and rhetorical traditions, Lyle Eslinger, in Kingship of God in Crisis: A Close Reading of 1 Samuel 1-12 (Sheffield, England: Almond, 1985) argues that Samuel misunderstands Yahweh in this passage. H.J. Stoebe, in Das erste Buch Samuelis (Gutersloh: Mohn, 1973), argues even further that Samuel's descriptions of the military draft that a king would impose actually had the unintended effect of making the people feel that a king would give them a strong military presence (186fn).

(7) Two somewhat dated publications deal directly with Cowley's reputation amongst his English contemporaries: Arthur H. Nethercot's "The Reputation of Abraham Cowley (1660-1800), in PMLA 38 (1923): 598; and Jean Loiseau's Abraham Cowley's Reputation in England (Paris: Didier, 1931), 1-21. A more recent, but less focused, discussion, can be found in David Trotter's The Poetyy of Abraham Cowley (London: Macmillan, 1979), 83-108. (8) Establishing a political context for Davideis has always been difficult for scholars because of the uncertain date of the poem's composition. It was first published in 1656, but Thomas Sprat, Cowley's friend and posthumous editor, claims that the entire poem was written during Cowley's youth at Cambridge, and completed before the outbreak of the Civil War ("An Account of the Life and Writings of Mr. Abraham Cowley: Written to Mr. M[artin] Clifford," J. E. Spingarn, ed., Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century 1908; rpt. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1958. 3 vols, 132-33). However, most scholars believe that Spratt was trying to deflect criticism of the poem's artistic merit by presenting it as the work of an immature poet. Kermode's argument in" The Date of Cowley's Davideis," (RES, 25 [1949], 154-58 relies a great deal on internal evidence within the poem and has generally been accepted by subsequent scholars.

(9) Citations from both "To Mr. Hobs" and Davideis are from The Complete Works in Verse and Prose of Abraham Cowley, ed. Alexander Grosart, 2 vols. (New York: AMS, 1967), Volume 2. In-text citations from Davideis will include both the page number in the Grosart edition and the standard line number in the poem.

(10) The Civil War, lines 87-96. Cowley wrote The Civil War in 1643 ,during the early days of the English Civil War. He never published it during his lifetime, and he reported having destroyed all manuscript copies. However, a shortened version of the first book appeared in 1679, twelve years after his death. Two additional manuscripts were discovered in the Cowley family collection in the 1960's and were edited by Alan Pritchard into a critical edition published by the U of Toronto P in 1973. Pritchard's comparisons show conclusively that Cowley did cannibalize many of the lines and verses in The Civil War for use in Davideis and other poems.

(11) Eslinger, for example, argues that the Hebrew verbs used in the passage are misunderstood by Samuel: "Conspicuous in their absence from Samuel's conversation with the people in v. 10 are the stipulation that he was to stipulate (ta'id) and the manner of the king that he was to declare t (wehiggadta). Instead, Samuel simply told (wayyo'mer) the people what Yawheh said. Although one might infer that such stipulating and declaring are subsumed by the verb -'mr in v. 10, it would seem that the peculiar usage of 'mr with a definite object is specifically intended to highlight the difference between what Yahweh commanded and what Samuel did /15/. Neither does Samuel make the appropriate declarations in v. 11: again he simply `says' (wayyo'mer) this will be the manner of the king that will rule over you'; Yahweh tells Samuel to prescribe `the manner'; instead Samuel describes it."

(12) Daniel Defoe Jure Divino (London, 1706). Each book is paginated separately. Unless otherwise noted, all in-text citations are from Book Two. (13) The three tracts generally. attributed to Defoe are: "Reflections upon the Late Great Revolution" (London, 1689); "The Advantages of the Present Settlement and the Great Danger of a Relapse" (London, 1689); and; An Answer to the Late K. James's Last Declaration" (London, 1689). Mark Goldie provides an extensive catalog of the pamphlets surrounding the Glorious Revolution in "The Revolution of 1689 and the Structure of Political Argument" (Bulletin of Research in the Humanities 83:4 [Winter 1990], 473-564).

(14) In his extensive introduction to the Cambridge edition of the Two Treatises, Laslett surveys much of the current and historical scholarship for and against dating the treatises before the Glorious Revolution. See especially 45-66.

(15) In note al on page 26, Defoe writes: "This Manner of the Kingdom was told to all the people, that implied the Consent of the People required to make him King, without which, tho' Samuel had anointed him, he was not own'd by the Israelites, but went about his private affairs till after the Victory over the Ammonites." However, Defoe does not suggest why the Israelites would have given someone going about "his private affairs" control over their army.
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